Dreads, yams and hope
Brixton may be the streetwise, restless soul of south London, but is it ripe for tourism? Yes, says resident Simon Lewis
Sunday 26 January 1997
It used to be horrible in this lift: "BNP" slashed into the wall and it stank of piss. Steel and cameras is better.
This is the improved, new formula Brixton. Money is getting pumped in. Brixton Riot is the name of a rum cocktail in a new wine bar; tourists are looking for something new.
The good old days
This is not the first time. Back in the 1920s and 1930s Brixton was a genteel place, a centre for theatre. Electric Avenue, off Coldharbour Lane, was one of the first roads in Europe to get electric street lighting. The area went downhill in the Forties, not helped by the stripping away of metal awnings over the Avenue to make bombs during the war. The biggest of the old theatres have been converted to clubs. Brixton is now one of the nightlife hotspots of the capital, with any number of venues catering for the sets and subsets of the capital's cultures.
Not everybody's happy. House prices are rising; it's the new yuppie frontier. Locals fear the tide of money will smooth out the bumps, bland out the area into a united colours of Brixton ethnic shopping mall, make it look like Croydon.
Coldharbour Lane still has a homely shabbiness though. We're walking past the old dole office. It used to be a squat and run as an alternative arts centre; there was a gallery and caff and you could do yoga then have a smoke with the teacher. Then the building was bought up, the hippies got kicked out, and the windows boarded up again. John Major used to sign on there. He grew up round here somewhere. I saw a programme a few years back in which he was driven round Brixton in a Range-Rover. His face crinkled with pleasure as he reminisced about his childhood. He did not get out of the car.
I wonder what the locals thought of the Prime Minister's shadowy form peering through the tinted windows of the cruising Range-Rover. Likely they took him for a particularly successful drug dealer, prowling his turf - Range-Rovers have replaced BMWs as their vehicle of choice. That's an example of what ad execs call the development of unexpected secondary markets, and its something you see a lot of in Brixton. The immaculate gear of the rude boys hanging out along the Lane is by Tommy Hilfiger, the preppy American designer. Nice white kids in the pubs are sporting dreads.
There's a manic energy about Brixton - it's the cultural cocktail. Nowadays it is the biggest Afro-Caribbean centre for 1,000 miles, a proud community a world away from Mr Major's warm beer and cricket matches. One of the best things is the shopping. The street market is Brixton's greatest asset, offering yams, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, plantain, soursup, and fish like Jamaican snapper and barracuda. If you're snacking, you're never far from a pattie, and the local sandwich bars have swordfish and jerk chicken on the menu. The street sellers hawk knock-off designer labels and tat, and there's always someone selling incense outside the tube. It may not be London's cleanest Tube station, but it's the sweetest smelling.
The attitude in the street here isn't normally seen in this climate. It's a place to hang out, not just to move through, given a soundtrack by the dub and reggae blasting out of shop doors. If it's cold, you can head for the caffs: Pushkar on Market Row for jasmine tea and scones, Portuguese Max's on Station Road for a wicked espresso, and El Pilon Quindiano in Granville Arcade for Colombian cornbreads you eat off banana leaves.
As for us, strolling away a Friday night, we're now at the junction with Railton Road. The pub on the corner used to be called the Atlantic; it was said that if you got off the plane from Jamaica and went there you were bound to meet a relative or friend. It got closed down, and now it's reopened as the Dogstar, Brixton's trendiest venue that aims for squatty casualness with big spaces, comfy sofas and arty decor. Bouncers on the door won't let groups of black men in. In the last riots the place was set on fire.
" 'ash, man?" Further up Coldharbour Lane, hustlers move out of the shadows. You'd have to be desperate to buy one of their Oxo cubes. There are some highly civilised restaurants along here, including an Indonesian, the Satay Bar, and an Eritreian, the Asmara. There's also Lambeth's good old Ritzy Cinema on the corner. We head for The Hobgoblin on Effra Road, one of the liveliest pubs.
Someone talks to someone who's heard from someone that there might be something going on in Angel Town, a grim estate at the other end of Brixton. Clusters of Italian crusties give us directions. A lot of the most whacked out people in Brixton are south Europeans.
Somewhere in the geometric maze of Angel Town a free party crew are squatting in an old children's home and have set up a couple of sound systems. DJs are mixing in old classrooms. We settle for the basement, which pounds with drum and bass.
It's hours before we get outside again. Silence except the ringing in our ears. Then a cock crows. We stand and gawp. It comes from a trashed set of houses down the road, where some travellers are parked. Dawn. I'm only 300yds from my block but it takes me 20 minutes to get home; there are 15 monoliths identical to mine. I doubt that Mr Major grew up in this landscape. In other ways, though, this is his Brixton.
l The Dogstar pub has a membership scheme. Non-members pay pounds 4 entry after 10pm. The pub also contains the Diva Cafe, which serves meals and hot drinks.
l The Hobgoblin pub is on Effra Road, 15 minutes walk south of Brixton Tube Station.
l Max's Portuguese Cafe is on Brixton Station Road, two minutes walk east of the main Brixton Road. Great all-day breakfasts.
l The Fridge (0171 326 5100; call ahead for information of events on specific nights). The most famous nightclub venue in Brixton, is on Brixton Hill Road, five minutes walk south from Brixton Tube Station.
l Asmara Restaurant, 386 Coldharbour Lane (0171 737 4144). A good-value, bright-red Eritreian eaterie.
l Brixton Academy (0171 326 5100). The major venue for bands.
l Satay Bar (0171 326 5001) 447-455 Coldharbour Lane. Indonesian restaurant a couple of minutes east off Brixton Road.
l Ritzy Cinema (0171 737 2121). One of the best multi-screen cinemas in London, which shows a mix of blockbusters and art-house films. Also contains a great cafe.
24 April 2015 07:30 PM
01 May 2015 12:00 AM
More than £60m was paid out to more than 2 million prizewinners this month
28 April 2015 05:20 PM
Why can’t we just have open and honest charges, without all the cross-subsiding?
28 April 2015 03:50 PM
With the pound at a high against the euro, it pays to buy now before uncertainty post-election
17 April 2015 06:00 PM
23 April 2015 12:00 AM
Experts disagree about the 7% increase over the past year
22 April 2015 07:29 AM
Too many mortgages are being sold with misleading gimmicks
21 April 2015 09:54 AM
The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in 2014
21 April 2015 12:00 AM
The average quote for a buildings and contents policy has fallen by 3.6 per cent
10 April 2015 07:00 PM
15 April 2015 12:56 PM
Joining Barclays Blue Rewards costs £3 a month but then lets customers in for handouts of up to £15 a month
15 April 2015 07:27 AM
A charity is urging anyone struggling financially to see if they could get help from the state
13 April 2015 11:39 AM
Video: With an election looming, a hung parliament could hit sterling
03 April 2015 08:00 PM
03 April 2015 08:00 PM
Q&A: What’s the best way to invest for our baby?
Crowd-to-let: How crowdfunding sites can give investors a slice of the property market for £500
Simon Read: 'Seven Families campaign offers an escape from financial and emotional distress'
General Election 2015: How you vote next week could affect your finances
Motorists will need a code to hire a car abroad
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 4 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
iJobs Money & Business
£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...
£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park